Nudnik is a Yiddish word from Polish and Russian roots. It Is an unflattering term used to describe someone who is tedious and boring. The closest expression in English (other than simply calling someone tedious or a bore) would be to describe someone as a stubborn, persistent pest. In everyday Hebrew use , a nudnik is someone who is basically a pain in the ass. A nudnik is someone who doesn’t stop when told to but just keeps at it, asking endlessly, telling endlessly.
When I was little, I was the biggest nudnik on the planet Earth. When I didn’t get something I wanted, I would just ask for it again and again and again until my father, who was exhausted by me, would just give in and give me what I wanted. My husband laughs at me and says that history is repeating itself. Things haven’t changed that much because my children use the same tactic. I have to say that I am a bigger sucker than my late father, giving in more often than he did even though I am a master of the technique.
This coming Sunday is our monthly Out and Up program, where we meet with graduates of our program in Juvie that have been released from Juvenile Detention.
I haven’t really figured out how to run this program; it is a work in progress, and it is really difficult.
In this program, I am the BIGGEST NUDNIK on the planet Earth. About 10 days before the program date, I start to call and round the girls up.
I call. I ask. I call again. I text. I say again and again how much it would mean for them to be there. I beg a little. I promise, all in order to get them to come to what always ends up being an amazing, inspiring time for us all.
Every month I swear I am not doing it again.
The girls live too far away. I shouldn’t have to beg. They should come without my trying so hard. They have too many freaking phone numbers! None of them use the Internet. This is just too much, just too much. BUT here I am ,once again hating this ,but doing it. I start my round of phone calls.
“Who’s gonna be there?” one asks.
“What are we going to be doing?” asks another.
“I don’t really feel like taking public transportation.” (FYI: The Advot Project pays for their transportation.)
“Really, Ms.? I’m kindda tired!”
“From what?” I ask.
“How can you be tired from chilling?” I ask.
“It’s exhausting to chill!!!”
They are teenagers, I tell myself, and age appropriately, lazy, difficult and altogether annoying.
But I am a registered nudnik, and I do not give up. I keep calling.
So today I made the phone calls on my way to Juvie.
The first phone call I made, I thought,
“Whatever. Don’t come. Just don’t come. Period.”
The second phone call made me remember that I really, REALLY need to learn Spanish.
On the third phone call I said, “You need to come. It doesn’t matter who else is coming.“
The fourth phone call was heartbreaking. One of my girls who just got out is trying to get custody back of her child and it isn’t going so well.
“There is a situation, Ms.” she tells me.
And she starts to cry.
“I understand,” I say. I listen and I tell her she should try to come; maybe it will make her feel better.
Nudniks are incredibly optimistic. That’s why they are so persistent!
And then there was the fifth phone call. I had called this number about 6 times. The phone belongs to the mom, who doesn’t speak English, but I finally I got my girl.
She was in the program 3 years ago. She has been a constant in the Out and Up program. We got her into a different summer program and she has been doing well, actually really well!
This phone call was what being a nudnik is all about .
She told me she is a senior in high school. When I met her she was 14, lost, incarcerated and so shy! She shared with me whats going on with her. She talked about being afraid to graduate, about being both happy and sad to grow up, about wanting to leave home and wanting to stay home. As she talked, the tears are starting to roll down my cheeks.
How she has grown! How she has stayed on the path!
She tells me how she is grateful to me and my amazing colleagues from Creative Visions Foundation for the support we have given her.
“You are the first person I am going to invite to my high school graduation.” And if that wasn’t enough, she told me that for college applications she was asked how will she get through the hard times being the first person in her family to go to college and coming from a low income family.
She told me that she wrote about having hard times in the past and that what got her through was the Ripples Project. “I found the website, Ms., and the movie I’m in , and I used it!”
My brave girl sent them the movie we took when she was incarcerated a few years ago.
I am so, so deeply proud of her.
We can debate and talk about if it is right or wrong to be nudniks with these kids.
We can be hard, and say they must take their destiny in their hands and step up. We can say, give them a chance and if they don’t want to come, then fine, don’t come! And we can think that it isn’t our job. We can argue that it isn’t empowering to be a nudnik. But, I beg to differ.
I commented to my brother that maybe they can’t cross the bridge. Maybe they can’t meet with me on the outside. He said, “You know, Nomsie, if I’ve learned anything living in New York (he moved there 6 years ago), it is that if the bridge is closed, you take the tunnel or the ferry. You just need to look for other ways of transportation. There is always a way to get back to somewhere that you need to get to.“
So I will swim as hard as I can and be persistent in trying to reach out to these kids. I will remind them that there is a sea of possibilities waiting for them. It’s really just up to them to take the next step, and I will be the biggest nudnik alive by reminding them, and nudging them to just take it.